One of our favorite photographers (Florida Spring Life’s first featured photographer)
conservation photographer and National Geographic Explorer
Jenny Adler Owen
crafted a field guide detailing different plants, fish and mammals and other species that can be found in or near
Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park for the project
Walking on Water.
Below you will find a quick interactive look at the guide. Our goal is not to recreate it so definitely make sure you
download the guide to get the full effect.
This guide was created for the “Walking on Water” springs environmental education program. It includes photos and
descriptions of 47 common creatures and plants that find their home in Florida’s springs, along with tips to help
you identify them. This is by no means an exhaustive list of spring species, rather a guide to many of the things
you may find during our swim at Blue Springs Park in Gilchrist County, Florida.
Look for the snorkeler logo throughout the guide. This logo tells you which species we are most likely to see. Keep your eyes peeled!
Using the example below the Genus species will be in blue and the common name will be in green.
Genus species (Latin name) -
Apalone ferox - Florida softshell turtle
Softshells are relatively hard to find and sport a distinctive
"snorkel nose." They can reach their long necks almost to the back of their shell. They are one of the largest
turtle species in the springs, second only to alligator snappers. They are carnivores and grow to about 1 foot long.
Table of Contents
Below you will find the table of content for the guide. Click on the category to view the species in more detail or use the navigation above.
The springs are home to a large diversity of fish species. You will often see mullet swimming around in open water and big schools and sunfish will swim right up to your mask, but many of the fish are relatively cryptic, meaning they tend to hide. If you wait quietly in the shallow water near the edge of the spring, you may be lucky enough to spot some of these unique and harder-to-find fishes in the underwater vegetation and in the dark shadows of the spring.
Amia calva Bowfin
Dasyatis sabina Atlantic stingray
Esox niger Chain pickerel
Fundulus seminolis Seminole killifish
Gambusia holbrooki Eastern Mosquitofish
Lepomis spp. Sunfish
Lucania goodei Bluefin killifish
Lepisosteus osseus Longnose gar
Micropterus notius Suwannee bass
Micropterus salmoides largemouth bass
Minytrema melanops Spotted Sucker
Mugil cephalus striped mullet
Notemigonus chrysoleucas golden shiner
Notropis harperi Redeye chub
Percina nigrofasciata Blackbanded darter
Strongylura marina Atlantic needlefish
Trinectes maculatus Hogchoker
Fish - Spring Invaders (2)
Caution: foreign invaders! Although we will not see them at Blue Spring in Gilchrist County, there are many springs throughout Florida that now have exotic fish species, which are species not native to the ecosystem. In Florida, some fishes have been accidentally released from aquariums or were originally introduced to control an invasive plant or other fish. If exotic species become established and change how the natural ecosystem works, they are called invasive. Invasive species can harm an ecosystem in many ways, such as by competing with native species for habitat and food and by altering the food web. Here are just 2 examples of many exotic fishes in the springs:
Oreochromis aureus Blue tilapia
Pterygoplichthys spp. South American suckermouth armored catfishes
The Santa Fe River (where the Blue Spring run leads to, about 1/4 mile down the boardwalk) is home to 15 species of turtles. More than 25% of all North American freshwater turtle species live in the Santa Fe River basin! In 2013, more than 500 turtles (Suwannee cooters) came into Blue Spring at once and ate most of the hydrilla, an invasive plant that lives in the spring. Suwannee cooters are the most common turtles you will find in Blue Spring, but keep an eye out for the smaller loggerhead musk turtles too!
Alligator mississippiensis American alligator
Pseudemys suwanniensis Suwannee cooter
Sternotherus minor Loggerhead musk turtle
Trachemys scripta Yellow-bellied slider
Apalone ferox Florida softshell turtle
Macrochelys spp. Alligator snapping turtle
Nerodia taxispilota Brown water snake
Did you know that there are left-and right-handed snails? When you look at a snail with the shell opening towards you, you will see that it is either on the left or right of the shell. By looking at the types of macroinvertebrates (large invertebrates, those that you can see without a microscope) present in the water, we can get an idea of what the water quality is like. For example, right-handed snails have gills, so they are sensitive to pollution and need water with a lot of oxygen in order to survive. Left-handed snails do not have gills (they breathe air at the surface), so they can live in water that is more polluted or has lower oxygen levels. So, if there is a high proportion of left-handed snails in a spring or river, it may be in trouble. Besides the few listed here, there are many, many macroinvertebrates that are small in size but hugely important to the ecosystem!
Elimia floridensis Elimia snails
Gerris remigis Common water strider
Pomacea paludosa Florida apple snail
Procambarus spp. Cave crayfish
Procambarus spiculifer White tubercled crayfish
We likely won't see either of these species at Blue Spring, but they are both important parts of springs ecosystems! Other mammals that live around springs are beavers and raccoons. Black bears are also often spotted near many of the springs in the Ocala National Forest (many miles to the south of where we will be at Blue Spring).
Lontra canadensis River otter
Trichechus manatus Florida manatee
The springs are home to a wide variety of plant species. Looking beneath the surface in the springs is like peering into an underwater garden! This is just a small list of the huge diversity of plants that grow in the springs, but it covers all of the species we will see at Blue Spring. Examine each plant closely, because several plants appear to be very similar and are distinguished by only a few minor differences. Also, if you look closely at the plants, you will likely see a lot of fish and snails too - fish like to hide in the waving leaves of the vegetation and snails often graze algae on the blades of grass and leaves of other aquatic plants.
Hydrilla verticillata Hydrilla
Hydrocotyle umbellata Water pennywort
Hymenocallis rotata Spring-run spiderlily
Lemna spp. Duckweed
Ludwigia repens Red ludwigia
Nuphar advena Spatterdock
Pistia stratiotes Water lettuce
Sagittaria kurziana Strap-leaf sagittaria
Vallisneria americana Eelgrass
There are many types of algae in the springs, but the 2 most common and noticeable are Lyngbya and Vaucheria. There has been an increase in algae in the springs since the 1990s, and scientists are hard at work studying the algae, the organisms that eat it, and what causes it to grow and outcompete other native vegetation.
Lyngbya wollei Lyngbya
Vaucheria spp. Water felt
Only 2.5% of the water on earth is freshwater, and most of it is locked up in glaciers or hidden underground in
aquifers. In Florida, we have a unique opportunity to experience the clear freshwater in the aquifer because we have
the highest density of freshwater springs in the world, fed by the aquifer beneath our feet. A whole new world awaits
just beneath the surface, right here in your backyard...dive in
This little guide is dedicated to my parents...
...who instilled in me a profound love for the ocean and who have unwaveringly supported my curiosity to seek what lies just
beneath the surface, even as it has carried me far away from home and into the once foreign freshwater realm.
This guidebook was compiled, written, and photographed by
Jennifer Adler Owen for the
“Walking on Water”
environmental education program. Special thanks to Dr. Ken Sulak and Dr. Steve Walsh of the U.S. Geological Survey in Gainesville,
Florida, for reviewing the guide and sharing their many years of expertise studying spring ecosystems, to Dr. Leo Nico at USGS for
use of his armored catfish photo and information about invasive fishes, and to Cynthia Barnett for editing the final draft.
This guide may be reproduced for nonprofit educational purposes, with written permission from the author. Please contact
The “Walking on Water” program and all associated materials are made possible by a graduate fellowship from the University of
Florida and grants from the National Geographic Society, Florida Sea Grant, and the Cottonwood Foundation. For more
information about “Walking on Water,” visit
www.walkingonwaterFL.org and to
view more of Jennifer’s underwater photographs, visit
This website is not affiliated with any local, state or federal entity. We publicly support the Springs of Florida,
the Florida Aquifer all Florida water ways. We want to share what we find and make it easier for others to find Florida
Springs related information.